Midweek Rant #14: Prices

May 21, 2009

When I was a senior in high school I worked at the Movie Theater in the local mall, and was lucky enough to not only have free movies, popcorn and soda, but also a half-priced discount at the pizza joint in the Food Court while on break. 

If there’s one thing that Jesse Gavin likes, it’s discounts on food.  However, days became weeks became months, and Jesse Gavin started to get sick of eating pizza.  Nonetheless I trudged on, because a deal is a deal, and Jesse Gavin likes deals.

But my eyes, they wandered.  Upon the opening of a new Taco place across the dining area, I couldn’t help but gaze amorously at a big sign draped above the counter.  It seemed to have some sort of deal written on it.  Surely this deal would be good enough to justify the occasional stray from my all-pizza diet.  Tacos are, after all, my favorite food. 

Waddling across the dining area for a closer look, the pizza of countless shift breaks still loitering in my overtaxed stomach, I was met with the most infuriating exclamation mark I have ever encountered:


1 Taco for 99 Cents

6 Tacos for $5.99!

 

That’s right.  That sixth taco is going to run you $1.04.

I opted not to say anything, assuming the mistake would quickly be corrected.  Despite the loss of money on the sign, it’d be worth taking it down and getting a new one to avoid the embarrassment.

Apparently not.  That bad boy stayed up for at least eight months.  I didn’t go back to the mall again for about two years and by that point the Taco joint had closed.  I wish I could say that this pricing error was just a silly mishap, but the harsh reality of it is that I see it all the time.  Unfortunately I never kept records of the blunders I’ve seen over the years, and many sleepless nights have followed as a result.

I woke up this morning from yet another tempestuous nightmare filled with the consequences of such shabby record keeping, only to realize that I had nothing to rant about for my Midweek Rant.  Terrified that Los Angeles and it’s Siren Song had wooed me into its signature 72-in-the-head-all-the-time-zombie-like-state, I racked my brain all morning to come up with something to be pissed about.

It didn’t take long.

On a trip to Whole Foods to get pretty much the only thing I’ll allow myself to get there, Kale, I once again embarked on a futile quest to find a deal of some sort that could actually beat Trader Joe’s (why oh why does TJ’s not have Kale?). 

Eco-Pacs!  Oh jeez, I thought, how I have missed these things from my days of shopping at The Westerly and Lifethyme Market in New York City!  The basic idea: put a little over two times the amount of cereal in a bag and sell it for a little more than the box.  It’s an Eco-Pac because it’s “Eco” friendly, as in the environment.  I always smiled warmly, though, at the thought that it was also “Eco” friendly, as in the economy.  And heck, the fact that it’s a “Pac” and not a “Pack” is a welcome allusion to my favorite video game growing up.

I sure do love wordplay!

But not when one of the meanings is shit all over.  I wish I could say that Whole Foods was disrespectful of the Pac-Man aspect of the Eco-Pac, as the beloved character could actually use a little antagonizing every now and then.  I’m not jealous or anything, it’s just that Pac-Man’s a little too loved, if you ask me.  The disrespect, however, was of the “Economy” aspect of the play on words that the boys down at the Nature Valley Think Tank had come up with.

 

11.5 oz / 325 gram Box of Hemp-Plus Granola: $2.99

26.4 oz / 750 gram Bag of Hemp-Plus Granola: $7.99


IMG_0519

IMG_0517Not as ostensible a flub as the aforementioned Taco Joint, I concede.  This one is going to require Eighth Grade Level Math, up from the Second Grade Level required to know that the Sixth Crunchy Shell just ain’t worth it.

At $2.99 for 325 grams, it would cost $6.90 to buy 750 grams worth.  That’s right, it costs an extra $1.09 to buy in bulk, help the environment, and give a little shout-out to Pac-Man.

Way to go, Whole Foods.

Now my one apprehension in calling out Whole Foods on this one is that perhaps this a Sale Price.  You’ll notice in the picture that there are a few stars next to the price.  These didn’t appear next to any of the other items on sale, all of which were clearly labeled with a big tag sticking out from the shelf.

Even if that was the case, it doesn’t sit well with me that they would discount the price of the one box of cereal that had a corresponding Eco-Pac, versus the other 5 varieties of granola and well over 150 types of cereal available that didn’t.  I can only imagine the secretive plotting going down in smoky back rooms at Whole Foods Headquarters.

“I don’t like the arrogance of this Eco-Pac…I say we put it in it’s place with a subtly marked sale price, making all the unsuspecting Green Minded shoppers suffer, whilst all the economically savvy consumers will recognize our underlying message: Screw the Environment.”

The agreeable murmur of the usual suspects is halted by a resonant voice from a dark corner:

“That…”

A figure emerges into the hazy light only to remain disguised by an ominously tilted Fedora.  “And the fact that Pac-Man must pay.”

I love ya, Pac-Man, but they do have a point.

This specific instance should not be looked at as an appalling example of poor pricing, but rather a typical example of an across the board incompetence of people that price things…everywhere.  As much as I’d like to keep records and go on with my quest, I’m aware that it will no doubt land me in the loony bin.  Having successfully concocted a cop out for myself, I can’t help but wonder who, if anyone, will take action against these supermarkets?

The answer?  Pac-Man:


Midweek Rant #13: Stephen Mangan

May 14, 2009

For a year and a half the City of New York tricked me into playing a game of cat and mouse with it.  I firmly decided that I was moving to Los Angeles after a trip here in May of 2007, and yet I didn’t actually move until November of 2008.  Why did it take 18 months, you ask?

Because NYC is crafty like that.  Just when I thought I was out, they’d pull me back in.  By “they” I mean the folks in Show Business.  ‘Oh I’ll just stay for one more play, it’s a really good part.’  ‘Oh just this one Student Film, I get to do an accent.’  And so on.  I kept getting fooled into thinking that there was a place for me in the Big Apple, only to be harshly reminded every month that that place required a hefty rent payment.  

There’s no better example of this than what happened to me the day I sat down to book my one-way ticket to LAX for the First of November.  I had been staying for a few weeks at my dad’s place in Upstate NY, about three hours outside of the city.  I planned to take the Amtrak to NYC, go directly to the airport, and head for the West Coast.

Ring.

Sure enough, six days after the date of the flight that I was literally about to click the “Complete Order” button on, my agent had gotten me an audition for Broadway.

Say it with me, Broadway.

Holy Monkeys.  Just five years earlier I had moved down to NYC with a clean pair of britches and a beat-up pair of tap shoes.  I didn’t actually know how to tap dance, but a deal at a yard sale is a deal, and Jesse Gavin doesn’t miss out on deals.  Broadway was my dream.  I say “was” because after years of auditioning for everyone I could and even getting a nice little nod from the New York Times, I was unable to even get a proper audition for Off-Broadway, let alone Broadway.  Einstein said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”  Since I’d come to the conclusion long before that I was clearly insane, it seemed as though Einstein was telling me that different results were in all likelihood not going happen, even though I was expecting them to.  I’d move to Los Angeles, where at the very least I’d have more insane people to relate to.  But then Broadway called…

I was not about to let NYC pull another one on me.  I booked a flight for the morning after the audition.  As I looked over my sides I realized that I had made the right choice in not holding my breath; I was auditioning for the part of a 15 year old.  Einstein comes to the day again!

 

It’s natural in life to make excuses for yourself.  The excuse “I didn’t get the part because it was for a fifteen year old and I’m clearly much older than fifteen” fell under the general umbrella of my overall excuse for never making it to Broadway: “I didn’t make it to Broadway, or even Off-Broadway, because I look kind of weird.”

I look kind of weird.  I’m cool with that.  Broadway doesn’t seem to be, but that’s fine.  I just figured there was no place for me on the big stage, so instead I moved to a place where physical appearance is not much of an issue, Hollywood.  New York just didn’t have a place for me is what I concluded…that’s all.  With this reasoning, I was able to make my peace with the Big Apple…and move on…

Well thank you, England, for destroying the only excuse I had for not being on Broadway.

When it comes to the world of Theatre, everything is trumped by England.  The typical Manhattan Theatre-Goer’s question “who’s in it?” can be answered simply, “I’m not sure, but it’s a transfer from London.”

“Ooh.  It must be good.”

Broadway has recently been taken by storm.  An English storm.  And this isn’t payback for the War of 1812, it’s like a figurative storm.  It’s…I don’t know if I’m explaining this correctly…it’s a really popular and successful play.  On Broadway.  And it stars this guy:

normanvertical

IMG_0023

Which one is Jesse? The one that's not on Broadway, of course!

About fifty percent of the people I know from New York that have gotten in touch with me since I moved out here have done so to tell me about the guy that looks exactly like me in five to ten years.  Remember that thing I told you about New York City?  So here’s the thing: because of all the success of The Norman Conquests on Broadway, it will most likely be done at every regional theater in the country within the next three to five years.  This means they’ll be casting a part that was originated by a guy that looks exactly like me in a role that, from what I’ve been told, is perfect for me.  In other words, there will be so much opportunity for me in the world of Theatre back on the East Coast.

Nice try, New York City.

Stephen Mangan, I applaud your success as an actor.  This is no excuse, however, for playing a part in an evil and horribly tedious plot that the City of New York has concocted to get me to move back there.  Shame on you.

But seriously, congratulations.

No, but really, why are you doing this to me?


Midweek Rant #12: Converse Shoelaces

May 7, 2009

About four years ago, I finally deemed myself “cool enough” to start wearing Converse sneakers.  Always the apprehensive type when it comes to fashion, I thought it best to transition with a pair of Old Navy imitations.  No one seemed to notice, and it helped make me a bit less anxious about the whole thing.  What if someone called me out on being too lame to wear Converse?

 

 

Converse sneakers are the paragon of a feature that usually reigns in the Dress-Shoe Category: Shoelaces Won’t Stay Tied-Ability.

There’s gotta be a better name for that.

Aesthetics aside, there aren’t too many factors that the boys down at the Shoelace Think Tank have to concern themselves with.  I would hope that the ability of the lace to remain tied takes top priority.  Come to think of it, I would hope that that would be the only thing the boys down at Shoelace Inc are thinking about once they’ve established what they want the lace to look like (thickness, color, fabric etc).

Converse sneakers, and yes I’ve moved on to the real thing, have terrible laces.  I’m not sure if they’re the same as other sneakers and this is in fact an issue of the lace-holes on the sneakers themselves, all I know is that since I started wearing them I have had to instate a new policy.

Much like a parent that understands the importance of drawing boundaries, I will occasionally refuse to tie my laces when walking in public.  Before you go thinking I’m an unfair shoe-parent, let me make my case.  Sometimes my shoes will come untied over and over with mere minutes between each instance, no matter how many double knots I apply to them (why oh why didn’t I do Boy Scouts and get one of them ‘knot badges’?).  This doesn’t happen every single day, in fact in only happens maybe once a month.  The very next day the laces will return to a much less ridiculous state of won’t-stay-tied-ability, which leads me to believe that the shoelaces are in fact testing me.

The physics of it doesn’t add up unless the shoelaces have a mind of their own.  And Jesse Gavin doesn’t let shoelaces walk all over him, thank you very much!  So the next time your shoelaces come untied over and over, do what I do: let them stay untied, and make sure they know why:

 

 

Occasionally you’ll get concerned onlookers inform you that you should really tie your laces.  My advice in this situation is to sternly and respectfully inform them that they should really mind their own business; it’s not their place to tell you how you should be dealing with the shoes that you bought with your hard earned money.

There have been times I have doubted whether or not Chuck Taylor’s are worth the occasional scene I have to cause.  Fortunately for me there is a solution, although I’m still working on becoming “cool enough” for it (perhaps step one would be to stop using quotation marks around the phrase “cool enough”).  A fellow by the name of John Varvatos had the good sense to design a Converse sneaker without laces.  Is it possible that he was so sick and tired of yelling at his shoelaces in public that his invention was merely an attempt to save himself some embarrassment? 

Yes.  I would say that was definitely the reason.  Thank you Mr. Varvatos, and I assure you I’m working hard to become “cool enough” to wear your sneakers.

I like quotation marks – back off.

 

Glorious.

Glorious.


Midweek Rant #11: “You’re Welcome”

April 30, 2009

I’d like to preface this rant by admitting to my overuse of the phrase “thank you” and all its derivations.  I’m the sort of guy that will rescue a child out of a burning building and then thank the mother.  This being said…

I don’t like the phrase “you’re welcome”.  I don’t like when people say it to me.  It makes me wish I hadn’t said “thank you”.

I know very little of the phrase.  I do know that the French and Spanish versions are “de rien” and “de nada”, which amounts to “of nothing”.  In other words you are saying that it is no big deal.  In English, however, the phrase we learn is “you’re welcome”.  Most people in America opt to adapt to the aforementioned French/Spanish sensibility of brushing off the gratitude.  “No prob Bob” is perhaps my favorite adaptation.

Sometimes when I hear the phrase “you’re welcome” I can forgive the person saying it to me as I realize from their accent that English is a second language.  Fresh off the boat from Italy, Raphael is unaware he is being a douche bag because that’s what the English textbook told him to say in such a situation.

But then there are people that are just douche bags. 

I know what you’re thinking.  What’s the big deal, Jesse?  After all, we enjoy feeling welcome, so much to the point that the word is printed on doormats.  Are doormats now douche bags?

I applaud your perception, dedicated reader, but I must retort.  You see, the part of the phrase “you’re welcome” that makes my skin crawl is not “welcome”, but rather it is “you’re”.  There is nothing in the French or Spanish version that points out the other person.  The English version, however, makes it clear that the other person has gained something, or at least benefited in some way.  It acknowledges the transaction.

That’s right, I said transaction.  “De nada” is charity.  “You’re welcome” is barter.

I was first made aware of this when my brother was getting his MBA.  He was taking a course in Negotiation, and told me about the importance of the phrase “you’re welcome” in the work force.  The basic idea was that the phrase “you’re welcome” made it clear that you weren’t just doing this stuff for your health.  Saying “no problem” makes it seem like you’re just happy to be there and expect nothing in return.  “You’re welcome” acknowledges the favor and thus the debt, whatever that may be.

I hear this phrase in all sorts of places, but as of late there is a specific occurrence that is making my skin crawl.  Where I work, we give out bathroom keys.  A patron will take it, use the bathroom, and then (hopefully) return with the key.  Many times I will say “thank you” to them, simply for returning the key.  As I said before, I have a habit of saying “thank you” too much, a flaw that has only been exacerbated by the past six years of working in the customer service industry.

 

 

I’m welcome to…receive the bathroom key back?

Thanks, buddy, I can’t tell you how much I owe you for that one.  I turn to my coworker:

 

 

So there it is.  To clarify, I don’t think the phrase “you’re welcome” should never be used, I only think it should be used when appropriate.  To illustrate, here’s a great example of a “thank you” in which I think a “you’re welcome” is in store:

To my dedicated readers, thank you for tuning in every week and taking the time to read my ridiculously long and reliably ridiculous blog entries.

Having acknowledged the transaction that just occurred, I’m searching online for some well-deserved gift baskets…


Midweek Rant #10: Trader Joe’s Detergent Box

April 23, 2009

I have a particular problem with the poor execution of products with good intentions.  You may remember in the rant about my frustrations with on-the-go coffee containers that I was bothered by a “green” choice resulting in a significant decline in quality of life.  Oh sure, constantly spilling coffee isn’t the end of the world, but it certainly made it hard for me to give a shit about the planet when paper cups are reasonably shaped and ergonomically designed.

I don’t know that there’s much I can say about Trader Joe’s powdered-form Laundry Detergent that doesn’t made me livid.  First let’s take a look at a promotional picture:

 

Behold the Box

Behold the Box

 

The marketing team must’ve known I like plants (even if I refuse to appreciate them).  Labeled “Trader Joe’s Laundry Detergent / Plant Based Formula,” the product was placed on a healthy, luscious bed of grass, with some other plants and flowers and some mulch in the background (forgive the poor description, I don’t know how to describe plants, remember?). 

So looking at the box I’m all like, “I like plants…”

The dot-dot-dot is where I decide to buy the product.  What drew me to the product even more than the plants was the price.  I had already bought TJ”s liquid detergent, but noticed that the powdered form was quite a bit cheaper.  The only trade off was that you had to buy one of the big boxes, with 64 loads.  I was sure I was going to like this product, so buying a larger quantity seemed like a good idea.  If anything, it’d save me another trip to Trader Joe’s (granted, this is not much of an issue for me).

Also, buying such a large container would keep me from making an impulse purchase of Tide.  It’s not like I get excited about Tide and can’t help but buy some, but sometimes you find yourself in a bind and you have some laundry that has to be done by 9am and it’s midnight and TJ’s doesn’t open ‘til 9am so you rush to Ralph’s and think to yourself, “damn, the corporations got me again with their convenience”.  And then you’re washing your clothes with a lot of chemicals.  Is this bad?  I guess so.  That’s what they tell me in the green literature.

Feeling good about my plant-based detergent, I triumphantly marched down to the Laundromat to do my first load, holding the box by it’s trusty plastic handle like I’m in second grade on my way to the cafeteria (my mom would from time to time hand me the detergent box instead of my lunch box).  It’s been a while since I’ve used the powdered-form, so I particularly enjoyed the scooping part.  “That’s about enough for one load” I said out loud, quickly realizing that I was in public, but then just as quickly remembering that I was in LA where you can be a bit of a nut and everyone will be cool with it just in case you’re famous or powerful.

I popped five quarters into the machine, pressed the start button, and began what I intended to be a glorious swagger out the front of the building.

I could imagine what the other patrons would be saying:

“Did you see that guy?  He was washing his clothes with Plants!”

“Plants?  Did you say plants?

“Mommy!  I want to wash MY clothes with plants!”

Having grabbed the detergent box by the handle, I only made it one step before I went from the “Green God” you wish you could be to the “Hopeless Hippie” you hope doesn’t recognize you from high school.  Yep.  I’m the Hippie that just can’t get anything right.

“Psst – Look at the guy with scraggly hair and five o’clock shadow.”

“Which one?  The one with the plants?”

“Yeah, that one, the guy just spilled his powdered-form detergent all over the place!”

“Serves him right for washing his clothes with plants.  Sounds like he’s been smoking the plants too.”

“Sure does, Alex.  It sure does.”

“Mommy, mommy, what kind of plants did the hippie smoke?!”

“Quiet Sarah, you’re being rude.”

“Pshh, like the hippie can hear us let alone process thoughts.”

“Oh Alex, always so witty…”

To demonstrate where things went wrong:

 

 

The handle is attached to the part of the box that flaps open once you break the seal, gaining access to the powdered-form detergent.  This leads me to either believe that the handle was designed specifically to open the flap and gain access to the detergent, or that the handle was only meant to be used for transporting the box from the grocery store to your home, and then from your home to the Laundromat solely for its initial load.  All other  subsequent transports, you know…for the 63 other loads you’ll be doing, obviously don’t necessitate a handle.  Once you’ve got the hang of this whole “laundry thing,” you’ll in all likelihood be able to manage this box with either two free hands, or the old under-the-armpit trick (Trader Joe’s can not legally be held responsible for any undesirable odors added to the detergent from using this technique).

I’d rather buy the Tide.  They either do the handle right, or they don’t do it at all.

Renowned Playwright Tony Kushner once said that Political Theater must be twice as good as non-Political Theater.  I think the green movement ought to be aware of this concept and stop coming out with idiotic products.

I hope you all had a wonderful Earth Day.


Midweek Rant #9: “Really”

April 16, 2009

There was a time when people relished in the use of their vocabulary.  This golden era existed between the invention of the printing press and the advent of television.  Now, with text messages becoming a preferred mode of communication, gone forever are the days when a clever phrasing could light up a room.  Vocabulary words are only useful for the GRE’s, and anyone that actually enjoys using them is either a  rapper or a douche bag.  Rappers tend to love words, and savor the opportunity to get crafty with them.  Douche bags like to impress people with their vocabulary, always a bit worried that someone will ask them to define a word they just used (at best, they’ll usually be able to explain it in context).

I’ve started to enjoy words more lately. Since I’m not a rapper, I have to assume that it makes me kind of a douche.  And I’m OK with this.  But one thing I’m not OK is the use of the word “really”. 

 

Really (adv)

  1. In actual truth or fact
  2. Truly; genuinely
  3. Indeed

Really (interj)

  1. An exclamation of dismay, doubt or surprise

 

You’ll notice that the last definition is the most common these days among my generation:

 

 

It’s not the first one that bothers me as much as the second one.  The first one certainly falls under the umbrella of “an exclamation of dismay, doubt or surprise,” but the second is kind of different.  It’s hard for me to put my finger on it, but it’s kind of “shame on you” mixed with “I’ve had enough”.  Perhaps it’s just the third definition, “indeed”.  All I know is that a lot of people are taking the easy road with this word, and then calling it a day.  Once the word “really” is broken out, there’s no need to expand or articulate any further. 

If they don’t get it then…I mean…really?

Really.

 


Midweek Rant #8: Appreciation

April 9, 2009

Several weeks ago I was wandering around the library, engaged in my nonsensical ritual of waiting for a book to call out to me.

“Psst, Jesse!  Over here…”

I excitedly turned to see what book it was, and within four seconds I was in a mad dash for the exit.  Now I know what you’re thinking, perhaps the voice speaking to me was not an imaginative personification, but an agent of a secret society that had been surreptitiously tracking my every move and was finally ready to make me its leader, as the sacred scrolls had both predicted and demanded.

But in fact it was just my imagination, personifying an energetic tug from a very particular book.  A book on plants.

Plants!

In the four terrifying seconds of lag time, my mind opened itself to the possibility of learning about all sorts of plants and then trees and then maybe animals, and acquiring the sort of vocabulary that would make me the most interesting guy you could bring along on a nature hike. 

And then I ran.

I managed to escape sixteen years of education without knowing the difference between an oak tree and a pine tree.  And I’m damn proud of that.  Oh, I know, I know.  If I were to learn about all the different types of plants and trees I would develop an appreciation for nature. 

Appreciation!

I hate Appreciation.  I hope I never learn about different plant names.  It’s not that I don’t like plants, quite the contrary.  I love plants and nature.  I love them so much, I refuse to allow them be ruined by developing an appreciation for them.  I’ve allowed appreciation to ruin too many things in my life: movies, music, microbrews.  Appreciation knows no bounds, and would happily continue on with its ambition to simultaneously muddy and de-mystify all the pleasures of life.  Unless stopped, it will rage on.  If you find yourself being lured by its siren song, I suggest you run.  Run for your life!  (please obey crosswalk signals)

I’ll leave you with a poem by Walt Whitman I first read in a Poetry class ironically aimed at developing an appreciation for the art form:

 

The Learn’d Astronomer by Walt Whitman

When I heard the learn’d astronomer;

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;

When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;

When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;

Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars